What are the best gay-friendly countries to retire/move to?
We’re often asked about racial/religious tolerance and about how accepting the locals are in various countries toward LGBT lifestyles. While you’ll typically find a warm welcome in any of the countries we suggest for expat living, here’s what our experts on the ground had to say about the countries they live in.
Marsha Scarbrough – IL Spain Correspondent
Spain is openly gay-friendly. After suffering years of oppression under the Franco dictatorship, Spain threw its arms wide open to LGBTQ+ citizens, travelers, and expats. Same-sex marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples were legalized in 2005. A 2013 poll by Pew Research Center showed that 88% of Spanish citizens accept homosexuality, making it the most gay-friendly of 39 countries polled. Madrid and Barcelona appear on many lists of the most gay-friendly cities. Gran Canaria, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, is a world-renowned LGBTQ+ travel destination.
Madrid hosts Europe’s biggest Pride Parade (Orgullo is Pride in Spanish) where posters proclaim, “Whoever you love, Madrid loves you” (in Spanish and English). Crowds swell to over two million people and get larger every year. The city also boasts its own gay neighborhood, Chueca, which you enter through a rainbow-striped Metro station. In the past 20 years, Chueca evolved from a distressed inner-city neighborhood to a trendy, gay-friendly hotspot. Besides LGBTQ+ bars, restaurants, and shops, Chueca offers inspiration and activism at Berkana Books, Calle Hortaleza 62, which features LGBTQ+ literature, magazines, DVDs, and author book events https://www.libreriaberkana.com/.
As Chueca becomes increasingly gentrified, rents are rising, so LGBTQ+ people are migrating to other neighborhoods, like multi-cultural Lavapies. Lesbians especially seem to prefer the bohemian vibe of Lavapies and gather in places like La Mala Mujer and La Berengena, but plenty of young gay men feel comfortable with the barrio’s laidback mood and lower prices.
Madrid also supports LGBTQ+ life with organizations like GMadrid, a non-profit organization that organizes sports activities for the LGBTQ+ collective, including basketball, football, running, hiking, cycling, dance, and yoga. https://www.gmadridsports.com/
Barcelona pulses with gay parties, bars, hotels, and restaurants. Check out the Sky Bar at Axel Hotel or the quiet garden atmosphere of Botanic Bar Café. Popular clothing-optional beaches include Mar Bella and Barceloneta. Just 21 miles southwest sits the coastal city of Sitges, which is known to have a large gay community and are accepting of all LGBTQ+ people.
On the Costa del Sol, Torremolinos is the heart of the gay scene. Especially popular is Ritual, a hotel for gay men only which features its own sauna, two rooftop pools (one in a nudist area with its own bar), and direct access to Bajondillo Beach. https://www.hotelritualtorremolinos.com/en/ Other gay-friendly beaches are Eden and Guadalmar (which is swimsuit optional). Near Marbella, Cabo Pino beach is gay-friendly as is Almayate, east of Malaga. More than 40,000 people are expected to celebrate Pride in Torremolinos during the first week of June.
Pride season kicks off in early May with an exuberant 10-day celebration at Maspalomas, Gran Canaria. These uber-party features live outdoor concerts, pool parties, foam parties, DJs, a huge parade, drag shows, fashion shows, and a massive “Freedom Party” finale. https://maspalomaspride.es/
Wendy Justice – IL Southeast Asia Correspondent
Vietnam has the most progressive laws in Southeast Asia for LGBTQ people. There are no laws prohibiting same-sex relations and there never have been. Gay marriages are legal in Vietnam, though they don’t carry all the protections that opposite-sex marriages have. Vietnam also allows gender-reassigned individuals to change their gender on their official documents. Gay characters appear in mainstream television shows and films, and most Vietnamese people, especially in urban areas, are quite accepting…a live-and-let-live attitude. The former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, lived with his husband and children for four years in Hanoi and was instrumental in shaping the country’s liberal attitudes toward its LGBTQ community. Aside from Taiwan, which has recently legalized same-sex marriage, Vietnam is the most accepting nation in Asia for LGBTQ individuals.
Gay Pride parades were first held in Hanoi, but now take place in cities across the country. The largest turnouts are in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), where thousands of participants come to take part in the festivities. Gay parties, film screenings, discussions, and a bicycle parade are held during VietPride celebrations. The VietPride Facebook page has all the details.
The LGBTQ community throughout the country consists of both locals and foreigners. The largest community in Vietnam is in HCMC, where you’ll find the best gay bars and clubs. The largest events, though, are held in Hanoi.
In HCMC, most hangouts are in and around District 1. Republic Club is the largest gay club in this area; they feature a drag show every Friday and live music on Saturdays. Each month, Full Disclosure puts on LGBTQ parties, with live music, drag shows, and DJ music that goes late into the wee hours. Whiskey and Wares serve craft beer, cocktails, and whiskey to mix of gay and straight expats and locals, and gay-friendly parties are held regularly at La Fenetre Soleil.
Besides bars and nightclubs, several spas in HCMC cater to the gay community. The largest and most well-known gay sauna is the NaDam Spa, where you’ll find wooden walkways, leafy plants, and a pond filled with colorful koi.
Les Come Out posts regular events and happenings catering mainly to the lesbian scene in HCMC.
Hanoi’s gay scene, though still quite lively, is quieter than HCMC’s, though Hanoians are just as accepting and welcoming. The Golden Cock Bar (also known as the GC Bar), located next to beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the historic Old Quarter, is the best-known gay bar in Hanoi. The LBGTQ-owned Sidewalk bar and restaurant in Tay Ho District, north of the city center, is popular with Hanoi’s gay and expat community. Hanoi has several affordable gay spas, including the Paradise Men’s Spa, a male-outcall massage service. Z Spa Hano also has male masseurs and comes highly recommended.
Other countries, such as Thailand, may have a more visible gay community, but in terms of acceptance and integration with the community, Vietnam leads the region.
David Hammond – IL Uruguay Correspondent
What’s the most LGBT-friendly country in Latin America?
Many say it’s Uruguay where you find a culture that values tolerance and inclusiveness, and an LGBT legislative history that echos those values. Here are some examples:
- 1934: Same-sex activity was legalized.
- 2004: Discrimination based on sexual orientation prohibited.
- 2007: Same-sex civil unions allowed.
- 2009: Same-sex couples can adopt children.
- 2009: LGB persons may serve in the military.
- 2013: Same-sex marriage is legalized.
Uruguay was the first country in Latin America to offer same-sex civil unions, which provide most of the same legal rights as marriage. Any adult couple (same-sex or heterosexual) who’ve been together for five years or longer can apply for a civil union at the Civil Registry.
Living in Uruguay
While you find expats, including LGBT expats, living in various parts of Uruguay, most live in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital and home to half the country’s population.
Montevideo sits on the north bank of the Río de la Plata, a sea-like estuary notched out of South America’s Atlantic coast.
In Montevideo, you can walk, run, or bicycle on the rambla, a 13-mile-long coastal promenade. You can shop at farmer’s markets that set up in most neighborhoods twice a week. And you can meet up with friends at a beach, a park, or one of the city’s many cafes.
If you feel like going out to dinner, your choices include traditional Uruguayan barbecue, Italian, Spanish, or French cuisine. After dinner, you might see a movie, listen to a symphony performance, or attend an opera or local ballet production when they’re in season.
While Montevideo isn’t a huge city, you do find some nightlife, including a few clubs catering specifically to the LGBT community:
- The Cain Club, in Montevideo’s Centro, is the most popular LGBT nightclub in the city. (www.caindance.com/)
- Il Tempo is a club near Montevideo’s Parque Rodó. It’s popular with a broad range of LGBT people (www.iltempoclub.com/)
- Chains Disco Bar, also in Centro, is a quieter place popular with gay men over 40. (www.facebook.com/Chainsdiscopub/)
Uruguay has many seasonal street events, including three Carnival parades. One annual event organized by the city of Montevideo is the March of Diversity. It’s held the last Friday of each September, which by decree is Sexual Diversity Month. (www.mimontevideo.com/marcha-por-la-diversidad/)
Traveling in Uruguay
What Latin American country is the safest and most accepting of LGBT travelers?
The answer is Uruguay, according to two popular indexes:
Spartacus Gay Travel Index (spartacus.gayguide.travel/blog/gay-travel-index-2019/ )
And Asher and Lyric (www.asherfergusson.com/lgbtq-travel-safety/).
About 80 miles east of Montevideo, is Uruguay’s most popular vacation destination, the beach resort city of Punta del Este, often described as the Saint-Tropez of South America.
Punta del Este includes a long narrow peninsula. It’s the official dividing point where the Río de la Plata ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins.
During the winter, Punta del Este is quiet. Then, when the summer month of January arrives, it fills to the brim with hundreds of thousands of vacationers from all over and the region and the world.
In Punta del Este, you can enjoy the beach, play golf, or rent a jet ski. At night you find a selection of high-end restaurants and landmark bars near the Punta del Este marina.
Gay men visiting Punta del Este may be interested in the Chihuahua Beach area, 13 miles west of the Peninsula. It’s where you find a clothing-optional beach, as well as hotels and businesses popular with gay men. One Chihuahua hotel, Undaras, exclusively serves gay men. (https://www.undarius.com/)
The LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Business of Uruguay website provides a calendar of LGBT-related events, connections, a list of member businesses, and even offers a diversity-branded debit card.
Valerie Fortney Schneider – IL Italy Correspondent
Italy has made significant strides in rights and recognition, though the LGBT community still face some legal challenges in Italy. In June 2016, a bill was passed granting and recognizing civil unions with accompanying rights to shared property, pensions, and inheritance. Adoption rights have not yet been granted, though some court precedents have been established on a case-by-case basis.
Same-sex activity has been legal in Italy since 1890. In 1982, Italy became the third country in the world to recognize one’s right to change gender. Gay people are not banned from military service and cannot be denied the right to serve, which is a constitutional right. In 2003, laws were established banning discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, in conformity with EU directives.
Public opinion has become increasingly liberal, with a 2016 poll showing a strong majority, 69%, favor same-sex civil unions. Some parts of the country, especially rural areas, are still quite conservative in terms of how members of the LGBT community are viewed. However, many provincial cities are increasingly gay-friendly, listed as “città arcobaleno” or rainbow cities, meaning they are not just accepting, but inclusive with social services and initiatives, a network of support, and cultural, work and leisure opportunities. Aside from Rome and Milan, such cities include Naples, Catania, Bari, Bologna, Padova, Gallipoli, and Palermo. The first retirement home facilities geared towards gays have opened in Rome and Bologna.
The largest pride parade is held annually in Rome, with large marches called Onda Pride (wave of pride) in Milan and Torino. Perhaps more significant to the wave of change and attitude, though, are the number of pride parades being held in provincial cities throughout the country with good turnout and increased awareness at the local level.
Rome, Milan, and Bologna are perhaps the most open and gay-friendly cities. In Rome there is the area called Gay Street, around St. John Lateran (Via San Giovanni in Laterano) and Via Labicana, the area east of the colosseum, as well as the Testaccio and Monti districts.
Milan is hosting the LGBTQ Capital of the Year, hosting the 37th annual convention in May. There is an active gay scene throughout the city, but especially around the eclectic and trendy Porta Venezia and Porta Nova area. Corso Buenos Aires is called Gay Village.
Bologna, known as a very open and liberal, is accepting and embracing. It is also the headquarters of ArciGay, the largest LGBT organization in Italy. In general, there is a greater openness and social acceptance in the larger cities of the north. However, the city of Bari in Puglia has become one of the nation’s most popular for civil union celebrations, with reception halls and restaurants enthusiastically catering to LGBT clientele.
While some LGBT residents report hostile comments directed toward them, others say they’ve been fully accepted by their neighbors. Because of Italy’s sociable nature and the tendency for friends to stroll arm-in-arm together, many gay couples say they can walk hand-in-hand without a second glance.
Jason Holland – IL Roving Latin America Editor
Although Mexico is a strongly Catholic country and fairly socially conservative, the culture is also very tolerant of different lifestyles and overall has a kind of “live and let live” attitude. This extends to most people being quite friendly to the LGBTQ+ community, with little discrimination.
On a political level, a ban on same-sex marriages was found to be illegal in 2015 by the Mexican supreme court. However, since then the practice has been adopted slowly state-by-state throughout the country, with some areas allowing same-sex marriages, including Mexico City, and others still going through the legislative process to officially legalize it. According to polls, a majority of Mexicans do support same-sex unions.
There are LGBTQ+ tourists and expats all over Mexico, traveling and living happily. But there are certain locations that are especially welcoming to people from these communities.
Puerto Vallarta is probably the best-known LGBTQ+ destination in the country. It is, of course, a premier vacation destination and expat favorite on the central Pacific coast just in general. But there is a particularly strong LGBTQ+ vibe here. There is an LGBTQ+ nightlife district here, well-known for its live entertainment, as well as other businesses, including hotels, shops, spas, and bars, catering to the community. Much of the action is centered around the Old Town, aka Zona Romantica, and Los Muertos Beach. There are certain beach clubs that cater specifically to the LGBTQ+ community.
You can also check out the arts haven of San Miguel de Allende in the highlands of central Mexico. Popular with cultural tourists of all backgrounds, it is welcoming to LGBTQ+ travelers and expats and very popular with this community. There is no shortage of things to do, including live music, performing arts, cooking classes, dining in gourmet restaurants, visiting art galleries and boutiques, and more. LGBTQ+ travelers patronize businesses throughout town. There is no designated district; the city is too small for a dedicated area.
On the Riviera Maya, be sure to check out the beach resort town of Playa del Carmen, which has a hopping restaurant and nightlife scene, not to mention white-sand beaches, clear turquoise Caribbean waters, and warm weather year-round. The 5th Avenue pedestrian street is popular with visitors and expats of every stripe. Also worth a visit is Cancun to the north. The resorts on the beach are gay friendly and the town itself also has an LGBTQ+ scene. It hosts an annual International Gay Festival. Gay-friendly hotels in Cancun including, Secrets The Vine Cancun, Le Blanc, Temptations Resort, and Nizuc Resort and Spa.
It’s also worth mentioning the largest cities in Mexico, which tend to have very liberal populations. Mexico City, the capital, and Guadalajara, the second-largest city in the country, both have large Mexican LGBTQ+ populations that are open and active in the community. The first gay pride parade in Mexico was held in Mexico City in 1979, and it is held every year in June. The nightlife and entertainment district for LGBTQ+ community is in the Zona Rosa, the, with bars and ventures running for a few block on Calle Amberes.
Kathleen Evans – IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent
Costa Rica is considered one of the most progressive countries in Central America – embracing green initiatives, welcoming different belief systems, and, as of May 2020, officially the first in the region legalizing same-sex marriage. That includes national legislation that offers domestic partner benefits. Same-sex partners are covered as dependents for the healthcare system in the country, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, or simply known as the “Caja” (which is available to all, once residency is approved).
Equaldex is an equality index model listing the legal rights and public attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in each specific country – cataloging such items as same-sex marriage, housing and employment discrimination, the legality of gender-changing, age consent, and more. According to this formula set forth by Equaldex, Costa Rica ranks higher than all of its Central American neighbors and as high as the other progressive countries in the Americas.
LGBTQ+ rights have so vastly improved over the last decade that there are more hotels, tour groups, and events targeting the North American market and beyond for gaycations. For example, the Marriott hotel chain worldwide has committed to its LGBT guests in partnership with IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) certification for suppliers, whenever possible. The hotel chain has even conducted non-discrimination training for employees and affiliated local tour operators, guides, and drivers. There are Marriott properties in Costa Rica around the capital, San José, Jacó on the Central Pacific Coast, and several in Guanacaste on the Gold Coast.
Mostly every touristy area is open-minded about LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the younger generation nearly country-wide. However, it is best to be culturally respectful of their catholic roots. It is suggested to use caution and avoid overt PDA’s, especially in the smaller Tico towns where they are less likely to raise the rainbow flag.
Here are the top picks to find your community:
By far, the biggest LGBTQ+ population is easily found in the capital city of San José and its suburbs; offering locals and visitors a plethora of choices from gay real estate specialists to bars, hotels, events, and bath houses. Each year downtown embraces the massive Marcha de Diversidad (Pride Parade) attracting tens of thousands in attendance annually.
The best LGBTQ+ beach area choice in Costa Rica remains the laid-back, artsy, Central Pacific coastal towns of Manuel Antonio and Quepos. Not only is it home to the most visited national park with a staggering amount of breathtaking views and wildlife, but it has also long been the best place to feel comfortable with your sexuality and gender choices. Here you will find gay bars, hotels, events, and even specific designated beach areas to enhance the experience.
Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean side, does not have a “gay scene” per se, but the area offers gay-friendly hotels and a young, easy-going population. You will also find gay bars popping up in various other popular beach communities, such as Tamarindo.
There are a number of tour operators who specialize in gaycations, so you can travel around the country with security in knowing that your hosts will take you to adventurous places to explore outside the aforementioned communities. Costa Ricans respect those who visit their country and choose to call it home, as long as the respect is mutual.
Tricia Pimental – IL Portugal Correspondent
Don’t expect to find rainbow flags flying in the conservative rural areas of Portugal, but that doesn’t mean that the LGBTQ+ community is not welcome. In fact, Lisbon and Porto have gay scenes, and the same is true of beach towns, particularly in cities in the southern region of the Algarve. Civil unions have existed for years, and same-sex marriage had been permitted since 2010. Gays and lesbians may also adopt, although the acceptance level is less for that than for marriage, due to the country’s historic view of traditional family structure.
Laura Diffendal – IL Belize Correspondent
Belize has had a lot of changes as far as the culture around the LGBTQ community is concerned, over the last several years. Belize became one of the more open-minded Central American countries when it moved to “legalize” male sexuality in 2016, with a Supreme Court finding that the anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional. The first Pride Parade in Ambergris Caye was held in 2017, and even in the more remote peninsula of Placencia, the first Pride Event called “Glow” was held in 2019. Generally, Belize is known as a tolerant society with a somewhat libertarian mentality about leaving others alone to live their lives. This is especially true in the areas of Ambergris Caye, Placencia, and the areas of Cayo. However – it should be noted that there is also an underlying culture of “machismo” and there are also some areas with strict religious belief and culture, and in those areas, such as in smaller and more remote towns, it is still recommended to be discreet.
As an LGBTQ+ visitor to Belize, you can feel comfortable in the areas of Placencia and Ambergris Caye to be relatively open. As you get to know the country and the many, many residents that live here that are LGBTQ+, it is known that you will become aware of and more seasoned as to the areas in the country where you can be open.
There are many free resources to use before you come to get the latest information, to find out the current cultural standings, and to create connections and a community before you even arrive. Some of the more well-known Facebook groups that are a great place to make these connections are:
Gay Pride – Belize – https://www.facebook.com/GayPrideBelize/ – this has an astounding 61,000+ members – and in a country with only 380,000 full-time residents, this is really impressive.
LGBTQ Events San Pedro – https://www.facebook.com/LGBTQ-Events-San-Pedro-Belize-224423571080915/
Our Circle – https://www.facebook.com/ourcirclebze/ – is a wonderful movement towards connecting the LGBTQ community in Belize.
GLOW – https://www.facebook.com/glowplacencia/ – this is specific to Placencia and a smaller group, as Placencia is a much smaller village, but great connection to the local LGBTQ community.
In San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, there are weekly or monthly LGBTQ+ events that are peaceful and welcomed in the community, such as at Sunset Lounge in the heart of town, who have frequent “Pride Nights”, which are attended by all walks of the community. https://www.facebook.com/sunsetloungebelize/
In Placencia, it is a bit behind Ambergris Caye, and it should be noted that Ambergris Caye is far and away the most LGBTQ-friendly and largest community you will find in Belize. Placencia having had its first successful and mostly welcomed pride event within this year, is more of a trail-blazing place than Ambergris Caye, but there is still a somewhat large and connected LGBTQ group there.
Jessica Ramesch – IL Panama Editor
All of the gay and lesbian expats and visitors to Panama I have spoken to say they find Panamanian society to be welcoming, even in smaller towns. A new gay marriage proposal is a good example of how progressive Panama is. The country tends to rank high on political and civic freedom indexes, and there is an established and visible LGBTQ+ community. In 2006, Panama ruled that transgender citizens who had undergone sex assignment surgery could change their legal gender on birth certificates. Two years later, an antiquated law criminalizing same-sex sexual activity was abolished.
Following the recent same-sex marriage proposal, there’s been a lively debate in Panama. There was a march showing support (led by Panama’s First Lady), and later those opposed to redefining marriage also held a march. In January 2018, a government official signaled that Panama would likely comply with a landmark Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights, and Vice President Isabel de Saint Malo added that the Panamanian Constitution guarantees the principle of non-discrimination, but unfortunately we have had no rulings on this nor three same-sex marriage petitions to courts yet.
Nonetheless, we had a calendar of gay pride events in June, with a flag in Plaza Catedral, site of the city’s “first cathedral” (catedral metropolitana) as well as many others, particularly in the arts/tourist sector of colonial Casco Viejo.
Nancy Kiernan – IL Colombia Correspondent
During the past five years, Colombia has increasingly become a gay-friendly country. They legalized same-sex marriage in April 2016. Same-sex couples who were married abroad are now entitled to the same visa, healthcare benefits, inheritance, and pension rights as heterosexual spouses once they take a stamped marriage certificate and identification papers to their nearest designated office in Colombia.
These advances in LGBTQ+ equality led to Colombia’s nomination as the “best emerging LGBT tourist destination” for 2017 by the FITUR, an annual International Tourism Trade Fair held in Spain.
One entrepreneur from the U.S. put the pieces together and created Out in Colombia Travel, an LGBT travel, and tourism agency whose goal is to create life-changing and memorable experiences for gay travelers and to help create cross-cultural exchanges that unite the global LGBT community.
I have met several gay couples who have either visited Colombia or chose to live here. They all tell me that they have had wonderful experiences and have received a warm reception into the local Colombian community.
Tuula Rampont – IL France Correspondent
France is often cited as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. In 2013, it became the thirteenth country to legalize gay marriage and several laws have been passed in recent years which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In 2001, Paris became the first European capital to elect an openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, and the city maintains its status as the most welcoming city in France for the LGBTQ+ community. The well-to-do neighborhood of Le Marais is the center of gay and lesbian nightlife, but you’ll find LGBTQ+ friendly venues all throughout Paris. One Parisian source noted that the city was so open that the only challenge residents may have is “working out where straight Paris ends and gay Paris starts”.
The streets of Ste-Croix de la Bretonnerie and des Archives, and eastwards to rue Vieille du Temple, have a good selection of cafés and clubs, catering to a gay clientele, while the area around rue des Écouffes is known for its lesbian scene. Gay hang-outs include Café Cox and El Hombre, while good Lesbian spots can be found at 3w Kafé and La Champmeslé.
Paris hosts a large and well-attended Gay Pride Day in late June of every year with an annual Pride Parade (Marche des Fiertés) which winds its way through Le Marais neighborhood. The rest of the year is equally packed with events that attract a local and international crowd – including the Festival of LGBT cultures in January, the “Festival de films d’artistes sur le queer” (Queer Film festival) (https://cultures-lgbt.com/festivals-films-queer-lgbt-france) in March/April. The Chéries-Chéris film festival (https://cheries-cheris.com/festival/), the Marais Film Festival and the Paris International Lesbian & Feminist Film Festival (https://www.cineffable.fr/en/editoEn.htm) are all held in April. The website GayVox.com provides a comprehensive listing of gay resources and events happening in France (in French).
Visitors and Paris residents can also take tours in English of the capital’s “Gaybourhood” thanks to the tour company Gay Locals (http://www.thegaylocals.com/) which gives participants an insider’s look at the venues and the local personalities which have shaped this vibrant neighborhood.
The Centre LGBT Paris-Île de France (https://centrelgbtparis.org/) is known as the best resource for the LGBTQ+ community in Paris. With a large library on-site and a café for meet-ups, the organization all helps with access to gay and gay-friendly medical services, activist associations, and hotlines.
Keeping in pace with its northern neighbor, the Côte d’Azur city of Nice has proclaimed itself the Gay Capital of the French Riviera, and for good reason. A rainbow flag, or a rainbow sticker, has been placed in the windows of cafés, restaurants, and shops after these establishments have completely a training course administered by the city of Nice – in order to be recognized as LGBTQ+ friendly. Other contacts in the area include Libreria Vigna, a lesbian-owned bookstore in the Nice’s historic center, and Caram’Elles (http://caramelles06.free.fr/), which provides activities and connections for lesbians living in the French Riviera area. One of the signature LGBTQ+ events in Nice is the Rencontres In & Out, a gay and lesbian film festival held in the city every June, and the Dolly Party, a street party organized by the Côte d’Azur LGBT center (http://centrelgbt06.fr/wp/).
Several other, larger cities, like Lyon and Montepellier, are known for their gay-friendly climates. Over 20 French towns, including Tours, Marseille, and Aix-en-Provence, organize annual pride events.
Although France has a generally very welcoming environment for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to note that small towns and villages tend to be less open climates for different communities in general. Likewise, LGBTQ+ couples should be cautious after dark in some areas around Paris; namely the areas around metro stops Les Halles, Chatelet, Gare du Nord, Stalingrad, Jaures, Belleville, and around the city’s northern and eastern borders – which have been known to harbor criminal activity after dark.
Donna Stiteler – IL Cuenca Correspondent
Cuenca is a gay-friendly community and there are many couples here. Women, in particular, have found the community very accepting. Because it’s a cultural center, there’s more of an understanding of different lifestyles and although it is 80% Catholic, there’s really not determinable religious discrimination. I have gay friends who are writers, artists, and musicians who have no problem fitting into the culture. It just seems to be pretty much a non-issue here.
Jim Santos – IL Contributor
While Ecuador does not recognize same-sex marriage, they do recognize gay couples as common-law or civil union couples. So if you are in a relationship, you can still participate in things like the national health care system or other legal contracts with all the rights of a married couple. According to the Constitution of Ecuador, discrimination over sexual preference is against the law. When discussing this with gay expats, I’ve been told they feel that most Ecuadorians are very accepting, although there are some sections of the larger cities that they avoid.
I would have to say that in our travels around South America, Uruguay is by far the most gay-friendly nation. Uruguay was the first South American country to make same-sex marriage legal, and society is very progressive. The country is almost libertarian—the rule seems to be as long as you are not hurting anyone, you can live your life however you like.
John Michael Arthur – IL Contributor
Costa Rica is a very LGBTQ+ tolerant country. Same-sex relationships are openly accepted by the younger generations. The older generations are very tolerant.
In general Costa Ricans don’t want to see a lot of public displays of affection—gay or straight— so that aside there are no problems. Even in our small town, there are numerous gays, and most are completely open in their lifestyle. All our neighbors know who we are and we have never felt the slightest prejudice. We regularly attend parties that are a complete mix of gays and straights. Everyone knows who everyone is and everyone acknowledges it without any prejudice. The Parade of Diversity (Gay Pride) in San José is attended annually with great positive news coverage. The capitol house flies the Diversity Flag regularly. Last year there were close to 80,000 people in attendance at the parade, fully half being straight supporters of the cause.
The recent presidential election had, at its forefront, the issue of gay marriage; the pro-gay candidate won by a large majority. The issue of same-sex marriage is now before Congress for approval as a formality. The laws have already been changed to allow equal rights to same-sex partners in all medical/hospital settings. Even without the country currently performing same-sex marriage, they accepted our marriage certificate from the USA. Therefore, we are recognized as a family unit and covered by the social medical system (the CAJA) as a gay couple.
Rachel Devlin – IL Contributor
Chiang Mai, Thailand has such a large and diverse group of expats. There is an official LGBTQ+ social group as an offshoot of the Chiang Mai Expats Club. Sexuality is not really an issue in Chiang Mai for expats in any way whatsoever. Interestingly, as I work on the Expat Club welcoming committee, there has definitely been an increase of gay & lesbian couples moving from America to Chiang Mai within the last year.
In Thailand, it is not illegal to be gay. In fact, gay marriage ceremonies are legal. However, at this stage, gay marriages cannot be legally registered with government offices.
Michael Cullen – IL Contributor
Thailand is one of the most inclusive countries in Southeast Asia and has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene. It’s often called “the gay capital of Asia.” Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1956 and in 2005, the Thai Defense Force lifted its ban on LGBTQ+ people serving in the military.
With around 95% of the country’s population identifying as Theravada Buddhists, these beliefs—in particular, the religion’s approach to tolerance— influences Thailand’s stance on homosexuality. And together with a general avoidance in Thai culture of confrontation and victimization, society has been created in which being gay is much less of a taboo than in many western countries, and of little issue to most Thais and certainly foreign visitors. The key phrase is “tolerance“ and not “acceptance“. There remain many social taboos against homosexuality, especially in areas outside the major urban centers.
In the major urban centers, especially those places frequented by tourists, and in entertainment districts, LGBTQ+ travelers should have no trouble with being open about their sexuality. There are many gay-friendly hotels, nightclubs, and resorts in all the major tourist destinations. The ‘Land of Smiles’ is an open and tolerant country.